A group of kids with hearing loss will find their voices on the stage in Northbrook this weekend.
No Limits, the only national theater group featuring deaf and other hearing-impaired children who are learning to speak, will present Mission: POSSIBLE on Saturday, Aug. 20.
The original theatrical production about children on the hunt for the eighth wonder of the world will take place at the on Walter Avenue.
Participants include children from Child’s Voice, an organization in Wood Dale that helps kids with hearing loss learn to speak and listen better, as well as other children from around the Chicago area who heard about the production through word of mouth.
For some of the kids, taking part in the performance can be life changing.
“I get e-mails from so many parents," says No Limits founder and executive director Michelle Christie-Adams. "They say, ‘I can’t believe it they’re talking so much, they’ve really broken out of their shell.' Theater brings it out in them.”
Directed by Christie-Adams, the Saturday stage performance features No Limits alumni John P. Autry II, who inspired Christie-Adams to start the organization 15 years ago when she was a teacher for the deaf in Los Angeles. Born hard of hearing, Autry has since and gone on to appear in the hit television show Glee.
“I was working in a school and I met John. He didn’t have any confidence, he never raised his hand in class, he was just sad all the time and had no real communication skills,” explained Christie-Adams.
“I started the theater group that summer because I found out when I was working with him that he loved music and he loved acting things out." she recalled. "I found I was getting more language out of him and he was really working.”
Christie-Adams, who had no experience directing, wrote and put on a production featuring nine youth that summer. In preparation for the show, she noticed their speech skills were dramatically improving.
“All the vocabulary I was teaching they were really picking up. It was just all coming alive for them, they were in the experience,” she said.
While she continued to work as a teacher, she spent her nights and weekends on No Limits, funding the operation with credit cards.
A few years after that initial production, Christie-Adams began getting calls about producing similar shows in other cities across the country. An anonymous donor from Philadelphia gave her a grant so she could pursue the work full-time, and the organization is now a nonprofit. To help expand the experience to more children, she has developed a kit in which she provides all the sets, costumes and props. Christie-Adams, who lives in Santa Monica, CA, then visits during the final week to make sure the quality of the show matches No Limits standards. Because she has family in the Chicago area, she stayed with them to oversee the entire production in Northbrook.
No Limits has put on nearly 60 original shows seen by 60,000 people in 12 states, according to Christie-Adams. The Saturday show will be the first for the organization in Chicago.
"I'm having the best time," she said.
Autry, the alum and inspiration behind No Limits, will be acting in the Saturday performance. He said taking part in his first production changed him dramatically.
"It helped me gain more confidence. It really helped me to believe in myself," said Autry, who now has appearances in movies and TV shows to his credit.
Part of the success of the plays is that the children get to encounter and work with peers trying to overcome the same difficulties, said Christie-Adams. In schools, children with hearing impairments may be the only ones in their class, grade, or even in school as a whole.
But, says Christie-Adams, “Here we’re all together, we’re all working toward the same thing.”